NOVEMBER 17, 2003
Official newspaper of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California encompassing all of
Alameda &
Contra Costa counties.






Be on watch for God to act

With this reflection on Advent, which begins this year on Nov. 30, Bishop Allen Vigneron offers the first of his regular columns in The Catholic Voice.

“Watch!” Jesus makes this admonition many times in the Gospels. And the Apostles, as His faithful spokesmen, repeat it in their preaching and letters (cf. 1 Pet 5:8).

Even the simple strategy of a “word count” shows that being on watch is one of those attitudes – like loving one another or bearing the cross – that belongs to the essence of being a follower of Christ.

Advent is the part of the Church Year when we focus once again on watching. These four weeks before Christmas are, so to speak, a kind of “training camp” for watching, a time devoted to perfecting our skills at being attentive. The need for Christians to be experts in watching follows necessarily from who God is.

God is the one who acts, the one who breaks into our history to carry us forward to the place where we will find Him. This in-breaking by God inevitably takes us by surprise. We highlight that fact by calling His actions “grace.”

Because God acts to save us so freely, so surprisingly, we need to be on watch. Expecting the unexpected must become second-nature, almost a reflex response, for us.

The days before Christmas are the right time to shape up our watching skills, because the appearance of God the Son in our flesh was the biggest surprise God had every worked. Even after we had turned our backs on him time and again, He kept His promise to bring us back, and – marvel of all marvels – He did it by sending His own Son to atone for our sins. There were lots of folks who, to speak frankly, “didn’t see that coming.”

There was, however, one faithful daughter of Israel, who was ready when the time came for God to act: the Virgin Mary of Nazareth. After her initial start, she was, like her father Abraham, ready to respond. She said “yes” to God’s plan.

Our Lady is the model for all of us. At the times we least expect it, God will break into our lives to draw us more deeply into His friendship, invite us to share His life. If we are watchful, “on the look out,” expecting Him to draw near to us, we, like Mary, will be ready to respond.

The real benchmark for measuring how accomplished we are in watching is our capacity to see God at work even in moments of trial and tragedy. In times of sickness and even in the hour of death, my own or that of a loved one, Christ’s disciple will be ready for His Father to draw good even from that evil.

In moments of challenge, when the good cause seems destined to go down to defeat, when our own resources are clearly not enough to protect what we rightly treasure, we must watch, we must wait for God to win the day for us. He will not leave us disappointed, because the Almighty loves us and He will come to our aid.

I can testify to how important the virtue of being on watch is in my own life. As a pastor I preach a Gospel that often clashes with the values and views of our culture, for example, about the right to life or sexuality or the very nature and end of the human person.

When I consider the magnitude of the challenge and my own resources, I could become disheartened. But I am not discouraged, because I am on watch for God to act in order to accomplish what He wants to happen.

So, this Advent, please “tone up” your ability to be on watch for God to break into your lives, into your homes, into your work-places, into any place He knows He will find you.

The key exercise in this sort of training is prayer. Take time to accustom the ear of your heart to recognize the sound of God’s word and the look of His action. And like Our Lady, always practice saying “yes” when God draws near, because He only ever comes in order to take us where we really want to be, where He made us to be, in love with Him. Come, Lord Jesus!


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